With today’s cold, damp and blustery autumn weather in Ontario, Tame Impala’s blend of dreamlike notes, psychedelic chords and hypnotic vocals were in order. I headed to YouTube and clicked one of their songs without looking, to ensure an impartial decision free of any subconscious influence. This method of decision-making led me to discover “Let It Happen” from their 2015 album Currents. At the end of the track and music video, I immediately hit the replay button, goosebumps on my arms. It is a video centred on a soul’s journey to death in a few clear stages. As someone who has always rather romanticized the potentially beautiful darkness of death via poetry, literature and film, I was hooked immediately. What follow is a methodical breakdown of the scenes as they unfold. I tried to pare it down, but it’s a bit lengthy. Sorry!…
The video starts with a calming shot of an outside space, just illuminated enough by a rising sun and glowing lampposts to let us see a man running into what turns out to be, in the next shot, an airport. The moment his feet hit the floor, the music starts, with a jolting, fast beat, mimicking his anxious, hurried pace. He is dressed in a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase with a highly stressed expression on his face and a hint of five o’clock shadow—all visual indicators of a businessman and frequent flier. As lead singer Kevin Parker’s voice sings about the noise all around him, the businessman speed walks and wipes sweat from his brow with the back of his hand that’s clutching his ticket, glancing around absentmindedly, not absorbing his surroundings as he focuses solely on reaching his gate. The lyrics, now repeating “let it happen,” feel almost like a warning for this wearied traveler to take a deep breath and let go of his need for constant control.
As he passes rows of chairs and a large window, a plane takes off in the background, heading freely into the beautiful light sky; this image of freedom so often attributed to the spirits of birds in flight is immediately juxtaposed with our protagonist’s sudden stumbling, clutching at his chest, pained facial expressions and ultimate collapse on the floor. The clear light sky indicates the sun has now risen, just as the light in this man’s life is growing dark, and the song’s lyrics “all this running around/trying to cover my shadow” seem to comment quite directly on society’s pace which has gotten so fast and so superficial that we’ve become blind to all that’s beyond the end of our noses, exemplified by the people sitting in chairs in front of him who have either not noticed his collapse, or have decided to ignore it. Switching to the character’s point of view from the floor helps put the viewer more concretely in his position of medical emergency, and the slight wobbling of the camera greatly aids in providing a sense of weakness, as he is unable to properly lift his head or his body.
Falling into a state of unconsciousness but not death, the man experiences a frightening series of daydreams, or perhaps an OBE (out of body experience), first imagining himself seated on the plane and being shaken awake by a flight attendant who puts a meal in front of him. It is not immediately clear at this point whether the preceding frames were his nightmare while he slept on the plane, but when he picks us a giant alarm clock as the lyrics say “I can hear an alarm/must be morning,” and he is suddenly in either his bedroom or a hotel room, we know that his collapse at the airport was reality, and his soul is experiencing multiple levels of unsettling events as it battles the line between life and death. Dunking his face in water to help clear his mind, he stands up and once again clutches at his chest, tries to swallow some pills but collapses on the floor. We witness the room from his groggy point of view as he is shaken by a flight attendant, first in the room, but, in the next frame, in the airport; we now know he has been found, and efforts are going to be made to save his life.
Back in his unconscious state on the airplane, as it begins to crash, the song laments, via the “mouth” of the sandwich in front of him, “And if I never come back/Tell my mother I’m sorry.” This is such a pertinent line as it expresses regret/guilt, emotions known to grip people who are dying, as well as those who grieve them. Immediately afterwards, he realizes the plane is crashing, but only for him: everyone else remains peacefully asleep, oblivious to the chaos as he grips his seat in terror, debris flying, light flashing through the window. Following this is a disorienting and anxious montage, alternating between the man strapped in his seat in the sky out of the plane, trapped, a prisoner, spiralling downwards towards clouds tinged with foreboding red: his soul is still stuck between life and the afterlife. One by one, he unbuckles the several seatbelts holding him in the chair until he tips himself out, freefalling towards the clouds—and at this exact moment, the repetitive psychedelic chords and transfixing vocals change to a kind of reverberation as, back at the airport, an AED is applied to his chest in an attempt to restart his heart.
Now surrounded by navy blue instead of red clouds, he is suspended directly in front of a light, white opening in the sky, signalling another transition is about to occur. A close-up on his lifeless eyes on the floor of the airport indicates his soul has agreed to let go of his earthly body; by consequence, while his body falls from a blue sky towards the red clouds, the background changes to bright white, and, for the first time since we met our massively stressed traveller, his face is awash with an undeniable expression of tranquility as he looks up with peace towards the white sky: he is no longer falling headfirst into foreboding clouds and suffocation, but is willingly moving forward through the red clouds in brightly illuminated tunnel, towards what can be interpreted as a place of peace, beauty and freedom from the worries, fears and regrets that plagued him in his mortal life; a place we tend to refer to as Heaven.
“Let is Happen” is another transfixing song from Tame Impala that, when paired with their excellent video depicting the soul’s struggle in between life and death and ultimate release into the afterlife, demands at the very least one more listen and viewing. It is a delight to encounter a music video that makes an attempt at art, instead of relying on sex appeal, to capture and maintain the viewer’s attention. How boring it can be to watch music videos that repeatedly showcase the singer dressed in designer clothes mouthing the lyrics as they walk around a set looking moody and broody; how fantastic that this video depicts a man’s release into peace through great acting, relatively simple sets and low-key computer effects.
5 out of 5 stars for Tame Impala’s video for their haunting track that has continued to replay in my head all day, “Let it Happen.”